If you’ve been following this blog and my articles at 3 Quarks Daily, you know that I give an account of wine appreciation in which tracking distinctive variations, the surprise of unpredictability, and a provocative, affect-laden sensory experience are fundamental to what we love about wine.
However, describing this kind of aesthetic experience that wine makes available poses a daunting task for wine writing and wine criticism. Wine writing that purports to aid in wine appreciation must (1) describe the individuality of wines and capture the full range of their expressiveness, and (2) find a way of describing and evaluating wine in which their individuality cannot be captured by conventional categories.
If the critic is charged with being “on the lookout” for what’s new in the wine world, she must be able to describe that novelty. If a wine offers something distinctive and unique, that distinctiveness must be described as well.
This is a daunting task for two reasons. As many have noted, in Western culture we lack a fully developed vocabulary for describing sensory experiences. Furthermore, all language is built on conventions and general concepts and thus describing something that is both new and unique requires some degree of linguistic innovation. The conventions of language must be stretched to accommodate something that by definition doesn’t quite fit.
Yet if the writer is to be understood those novel descriptions must remain sufficiently bound to conventions to be grasped by the reader.
That is the dilemma—to be creative yet conventional.